Whitaker, C. Stewart heroes in 3-2 win
By Brian Pitts
It was desperation time for the Mocksville Junior Legion Blue baseball team. A second division loss would have put its first-place hopes in serious jeopardy when only one team from each division will advance to the playoffs.
Thanks to a hard-fought 3-2 home win over Statesville in game two of a doubleheader on June 25, Mocksville is still alive.
Cole Whitaker turned in a vintage mound performance, and a pair of pinch hitters (Aaron Hutchins and Caleb Stewart) rescued the game in the bottom of the sixth, with Stewart lifting his team in walk-off fashion.
Both games were scheduled for five innings. Statesville held on 4-3 in game one. Mocksville halted its three-game losing streak in game two. Both were fabulous games.
“It was a good night all the way around,” coach Tim McKnight said. “It keeps us in the hunt. We’re 3-1 (in the Southern Division), but we’ve probably got the two most difficult teams coming up (Davidson County and Kannapolis). We’ve got four division games left. Obviously if we run the table, we’ll win it.”
Statesville got two unearned runs off Whitaker in the top of the first. On a shallow fly ball in the outfield, two fielders collided and the ball dropped on what should have been the third out. Third baseman Bentley Moody retired the No. 6 batter with two runners in scoring position to keep the deficit at 2-0.
“They shouldn’t have scored,” McKnight said of the fly ball that fell to the ground. “I don’t know if either one called it. If they did, the other one didn’t hear it. Thank goodness nobody got hurt.”
Mocksville answered in the bottom of the first. Jackson Sink stole second and scored on an error to pull Mocksville within 2-1.
Sink, who has been amazing all season, doubled in the third, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on Moody’s sac fly as Mocksville tied things at 2.
Parker Simmons led off the Mocksville fifth with a walk but was stranded at second to set up extra innings.
After Whitaker worked his fifth straight scoreless inning in the top of the sixth, Mocksville manufactured the clinching run in its half of the sixth. Dane Porter led off with a walk. McKnight summoned Hutchins as a pinch hitter and he responded with a single. When Kason Stewart walked, Mocksville had the bases full with one out.
C. Stewart emerged from nowhere to pinch hit. Due to an injury, he had only seen one at-bat over three games and did not play in the previous two games (losses of 12-2 to Mt. Airy and 4-3 to Statesville).
“On his first swing, he didn’t look good at all,” McKnight said. “Everything flew out. Caleb is having shoulder issues, so he hasn’t been playing. He can’t get anything on the throw. It’s getting a little better and he’s dying to play. So I said: ‘We’ll put you in at second base and see what happens.’”
With one strike, McKnight ordered a squeeze bunt. C. Stewart took the pitch for a ball.
“I don’t like to squeeze, but I put the squeeze on,” he said. “The pitch was down and away and Caleb pulled back.”
Then McKnight called off the bunt and let C. Stewart take a hack. The result was a thing of beauty, a shot down the third-base line that knocked in the winning run. All three of Mocksville’s division wins have been euphoric, including 2-1 and 14-12 victories over Concord.
“Caleb blistered one right over the bag,” he said. “That was a big moment for him because we wanted to get him in.”
And what about the Mocksville hurler. After his defense allowed two cheap runs in the first, Whitaker was lights out. He retired Statesville 1-2-3 in the second. He struck out the side in the third. He faced six batters in the fourth and fifth. In the sixth, he retired his 15th batter in 17 tries.
Whitaker finished with a three-hitter. He walked none and struck out 10 in 66 pitches, 46 of which were strikes.
“When we threw him at West Forsyth (in 14-4 defeat to the Green team), he struggled out of the gate,” McKnight said. “In the first inning he threw 40-plus pitches. He couldn’t find the plate. He kind of righted the ship in the second and third, but he had 70-plus pitches in three innings.
“But tonight (assistant coach Mike) Dinkins changed his grip on the changeup. And I tell you what, it was nasty. He was struggling with the changeup. As a matter of fact, we decided to put it in our pocket. He was going to go fastball/curveball. Even (catcher) Jacob Leonard said his changeup is not good. Dinkins changed the grip around the second inning and he got nasty. And Statesville swings it pretty good. Their top five are good. He struck out four or five looking.”
Sink seems to do something big every game. He flashed his leather on a play at shortstop.
“He had an ESPN moment,” McKnight said. “It was a ball hit in the hole to his right. He fielded the ball and threw off his back foot. Kason Stewart got a big hop and Sink threw him out by half a step. It was a nice play. It was the defensive play of the game, no doubt.”
Notes: Mocksville (4-3 overall) edged Statesville 5-4 in hits, getting one each from Simmons (1-1, two walks), Sink (1-3, two runs), Leonard (1-3), Hutchins (1-1) and C. Stewart (1-1). Porter had two walks. … McKnight cited K. Stewart’s work at first base. “He played first base both games and did a solid job over there,” he said. … The White Junior Legion team fell to 0-4 last week, losing 12-2 and 10-0 to West Rowan and 13-3 Stokes County.